Feel, the newest entry from the Michigan based pop-hardcore outfit Sleeping with Sirens, is less a dutiful follow up to their aptly titled breakout Let’s Cheers to This than it is a clunky consumer poll. Over the course of the album’s entropic 12 tracks, the band that built its reputation by perfecting the same kind of hard-boiled pop-screamo bands like Senses Fail and Hawthorne Heights once flooded the market with disappears completely, scrapping the formula to pursue crossover hits with budding rap rebel MGK. With goals so lofty, Feel could have been an exciting project built on the kinetic energy of their transitioning identity, but it ends up feeling like something that was pieced together in a boardroom.
The problems are left to air out completely even on Feel’s jarring opener, which also serves, distressingly, as the title track. Structured like it found inspiration in M83’s Wikipedia article rather than Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’s own opener “Intro”, “Feel” gets caught up in its own swollen dramatics while Cameron Mizell’s production lets Kellin Quinn’s suddenly mechanized vocals dominate the song’s frame. Quinn’s voice from Let’s Cheers to this, it should be noted, has gone from a more masculine Hayley Williams to sounding like it was extracted from the most helium-high moments of Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead”.
The changes aren’t just cosmetic, though, and this is made abundantly clear on tracks like “Here We Go” and “I’ll Take You There”, which play like Quinn’s hook-ready resumes that should be arriving on the desks of every major label head any day now. In many ways, Quinn seems as if he’s trying to use Sleeping With Sirens to do exactly what Nate Ruess did by way of fun. in 2012. The only problem with his plan, or, at least, one of the most glaring, is that he’s entrusted what should be his crossover smash to the same guy who produced the band’s little heard debut. When Ruess wanted fame, he met with heavy-hitter Jeff Bhasker in a bar and brashly sang the hook for what would eventually become his group’s megahit “We Are Young”. What Quinn doesn’t seem to realize is that popular vehicles are rarely built outside of the factory, and they are almost never put together by a producer directly associated with anything ending in “-core”.
This isn’t to say that Feel lacks any workable popular latch-on points. The MGK collaboration “Alone” is the most solid candidate. Though an absurdly organized song (Quinn’s rapid-fire, neo-rap posturing that inexplicably ends in a screamo coda is just one example), the over-the-top hook, “I don’t want to be alone/I don’t want to die alone”, lends itself almost effortlessly to MGK’s perfectly gnarled closing verse. When Feel has moments like this, Kellin Quinn’s aspirations for something more begin to make sense, but until he moves completely out of his friends’ studios, there’s little reason to care.